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How to run a winning 21st-century business

11 Mar 2021

Brought to you by TravelPerk, the #1 business travel platform.

How to run a winning 21st-century business

Did you know that during the COVID-19 crisis, we spent an average of 13 of our 17 waking hours staring at our screens (EHC)? Seriously. It makes sense if you think about it. Between working on a laptop, doing video calls, or watching Netflix (we all watched Tiger King, and wish we hadn’t…), the hours add up. That’s why my personal mission for 2021 is to be more present in the real world. To live life less through a screen, meet people, shake their hand (or bump their elbow), and have a beer with a human rather than a virtual presence. 

But is this the future? Will we continue to live life through a screen? I’ve repeatedly been asked if I think this is the future of work. Are we going fully remote? Will we really never meet our colleagues, customers, suppliers, and partners in person? The simple answer here is no. The fundamental reason for that being that humans are social creatures. We always have been, and we always will be. That’s not an opinion. It’s basic psychology and 4.2 billion years of evolution. 

So, what will the future of work be like? What characteristics will define a post-COVID, 21st-century company? Here are my two cents.

The bottom line: company culture

We like you wall graffiti

The bottom line of what will define the “21st-century organization” comes down to company culture. Having a strong company identity bolstered by culture will form the foundation of everything we build. So, how are we implementing that at TravelPerk? 

We like to operate on what we call the Founders Mentality. That means that each and every one of our people has ownership over their work. That’s it. We built our Founders Mentality on 4 core principles that we live by every day:

  1. Focus on impact over effort

    Before we start a task, we ask ourselves “does the thing I’m about to do really make an impact? For whom?” If something doesn’t add value to our strategy or customers, then why do it? It’s way more fun to work this way. Being told what to do every single day and having someone look over your shoulder all the time sucks. It’s a two-way street though —employees need to step up to the plate, but companies need to allow them to do so.
  2. Leave status and politics out of it

    A founder is driven by teamwork and motivation. If your palms aren’t sweating with rage when office politics rear their ugly heads, you’re doing something wrong. Leave that sh** outside. Don’t waste time and energy on politics, find motivation in doing something you believe in and do it as a team. Don’t accept politics. Don’t participate in it.
  3. Don’t be afraid to experiment

    Learn what your customers want and need on a daily basis. Sure, it’s great to have a plan —but NOT where it conditions you and makes you averse to change. Founders don’t work like that. They solve pain-points. They recognize that those pain-points may look one way today, and another way tomorrow. Think in small increments and remove the heaviness. Take risks. Experiment. Make mistakes. Learn from them. Move on.
  4. Put purpose at the heart of work

    This is really up to each individual. We should all do something we find purposeful, and find a place where we feel like we’re contributing. And companies, listen up—let your people find their purpose, and search for it inside your company. People—there’s no shame in searching. It’s a noble and honorable quest. A happy and balanced life requires quality human connections and purposeful work.

Company culture is also there to give people a sense of belonging. And I’m not talking about that whole “we’re a family” thing. You’re not a family. Your family is your family, and your team is your team. That being said, your people need to feel like they’re part of that team. How do you do that? It’s really not hard. Respect them for who they are—regardless of where they’re from, what language they speak, what they believe, who they’re attracted to, or who they’re voting for. Appreciate and applaud their differences, and then – crucially – give them something in common. Create traditions or rituals, focus on the common points and leave the outside world with its ugly politics and divisions far away. Culture must feel unique, and so your team must share something deep almost intuitively. 

It’s not all about location, location, location

Table full of laptops

No, you don’t need to have your entire company in one, central location. You can grow and evolve your team in different parts of the world. That can actually help your business. Think about it —cultural specificities don’t translate well in video calls. You need people on the ground to give this personal, cultural touch. Just make sure they’re all united by that one common purpose and sense of belonging.

My prediction on what this will look like is that companies will now have several hubs around the world. A new dimension of business travel will arrive. People will now have to travel to meet their teammates once every quarter, month, or even week. Objective-based leadership will become the new norm. We’ll measure management success through OKRs, transparency, and access to data. We’ll need to live and breathe our company culture and make all of our hiring decisions based on that. We’ll need to trust that although we can’t see everyone we work with every day, they’re acting in accordance with our values. In my ideal world, we’d have small teams in close proximity to each other. They’d be loosely connected functionally to the rest of the company but very closely connected culturally.

No, fully remote work is not the future

Cool startup office

You might disagree, but I just don’t see full remote work as the future. You guessed why. We are social creatures. UCLA professor Matthew Lieberman said that “being socially connected is our brain’s lifelong passion. It’s been baked into our operating system for tens of millions of years.” (UCLA)

This all goes back to the bottom line of why something like business travel even exists—our inherent need for human connection. We build trust through physical proximity and interaction. Look at your personal life. Where are the people closest to you? I’m guessing they’re literally closest to you. That’s why a fully remote company is actually harder to scale. It’s exactly why we need to delicately balance the two worlds. Enter the word of the year. Hybrid. 

Facebook and Twitter, for example, made a big to-do about “working from home forever”. But they’re working with hybrid models, where some employees work from home and others don’t. What’s probably here to stay forever is a person’s ability to work from home from time to time. That’s not to say that 100% of employees in 100% of companies will do that. 

That leads nicely to my next point. Ask your employees what they want. This whole “we know what’s best” thing doesn’t fly anymore. We actually asked our entire team what they wanted the future of work to look like at TravelPerk, and they answered in kind. They wanted what we’ve now named FlexibleWorkPerk. Based on feedback from our people, the majority of them want a hybrid model where they can work from the office 2-3 days a week. Here are a few interesting stats:

  • 88% said they are productive working at home
  • 63% are happiest combining working from home and working from the office
  • 70% of managers feel most at ease when leading their teams on a hybrid model

We’re working hard to deliver that to them in a way that works for everyone. The moral of the story here is that decisions shouldn’t just come from the leadership team. Give your employees a voice.

Your team is your product

happy team startup

… and you’re wrong if you think otherwise. The days of 120-hour weeks are gone, thank God. Give your people room to breathe, and the space to invest in family and friends. Be there for them no matter what. During the pandemic, I gave everyone in the team my personal phone number in case they needed someone to talk to. In unprecedented times, you have to make unprecedented moves. The goal of a leader is to assemble an amazing team, show them their objective, nurture them, and let them find their path to success. So, if you haven’t thought about employee wellbeing, you really should. Treat your people like adults, but above all, treat them like people.

Wrapping up

If you’ve skipped over everything else and just came down to the main points, here they are.

  • Your company culture will be your compass guiding you through this new normality
  • Create a sense of belonging for everyone, no matter where they are
  • Teams will be distributed, but not 100% remote
  • Treat your employees well. Don’t be an asshole.

That’s all folks.